The Shadow Knows

Sh1

I look at shadows. Long ones, sharply vivid ones, shadows of ordinary things and unusual things, shadows I never saw before because I’ve never been to that location in that light. From shadows I get the same small charge of pleasure that I get from fireworks:  I look expecting to see them, but still, how wonderful to see what is both real yet only made of light and eyes.

No idea why this is, that I have a passion for shadows. Some friends might suggest it’s because I used to love working backstage at the theater, and I’m just drawn to my natural habitat. Is it a chance to pay attention to the intriguing Buddhist ambiguity of the (non)self? I do love modernist photography, that’s for sure, and those Artists were gods of form and contrast.

Sh2As a poet and reader, I love me a liquid, sparkling, misty, on-fire metaphor. A shadow is a metaphor, equivalent to a Thing but made of something else. Paradoxically, that something else reveals more of the first Thing to us.

My favorite metaphor right now is Jane Hirshfield’s opening heart as boiling artichoke in the poem “My Species”.  An “opening” heart is a metaphor itself, commonplace but fine.

I’ve been looking at a book by Teju Cole, Blind Spot, where he pairs photos with short prose pieces. A striking one (much of the Foreword also dwells beautifully on it) shows a white house behind a tall line of just-greening shrubs, and the sharp, spreading shadow of a still-bare tree that itself does not appear.

Sh4

Cole writes, “Spring…it is not only the leaves that grow. Shadows grow also. Everything grows, both what receives the light, and what is cast by it.”

Some type of image reaching out from its place of origin, existing beyond the edges of its source, visible when its creator is not. Is that a metaphor for Creativity?? I hope so! I hope It and I will grow this spring. I love shadows.

Sh3

Blind Spot by Teju Cole was published by Random House. The photos are by the blogger.

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Hark! An Artist. Or, Winging It Some More

badass kate

So, Untold Numbers of you long ago discovered the fabulous Kate Beaton, whose art this is. It’s from her book Hark! A Vagrant, which was “on my list” forever and which I finally read in one sitting because she is fantastic. Her Mystery Solving Teens clearly know what is What when it comes to gravestone Art, and when I saw this, I grinned like a…well, you know.

Here’s the most badass Winged skull in my personal photo collection from King’s Chapel Burial Ground in Boston. At least It thinks it is.

badass wingy

Kate Beaton’s art was used without a glimmer of permission, and I hope she won’t mind.

Nose to Wall

 

Photographer Minor White told his students, including John Daido Loori who records the instructions in The Zen of Creativity, to “Venture into the landscape without expectations. Let your subject find you.”

I was actually waiting for the bus.  Behind the stop stretches a tall brick wall coated with ivy, Van Gogh-palette-knife-thick. All summer it spread and shone, and waggled in the street wind like nodding fox heads. I enjoy photographing the same places at different times, so waiting by the wall presented an opportunity.

I kept taking pictures of the Ivy Wall. I kept deleting pictures of the Ivy Wall. I really didn’t like the Ivy Wall. First, brick orange is not my favorite color, and the ivy was mostly a shade of green I would never want with it. Sorry, 1970s, no offense. From a distance, wide swathes of an unattractive color combination. Closer, the large, reptilian leaves that often looked Monstrous later.

It became a frustrating challenge. It didn’t matter, of course: I’m not any type of photographer except for pleasure, and to remember impressions I might want to write about. I thought about White’s advice sometimes, and hoped that if I kept trying, it might happen. I was not being quite Nobly Creative, but I was being stuck there with bags of groceries.

These cold days, the ivy is gone, and still, brown veins thread and tangle along the wall. But I love the forms of things in minimal winter, and I went over. And things kept pulling my eyes closer and closer. It felt as if the photos had just been waiting underneath all summer. How wonderful to see moss in the mortar, tiny oval yellow leaves that wind had tucked behind the vines, and the weary fruit and plant bits left behind.

I like details, forms, and shadows, things that feel like “moments” of space or color. I have no real idea how to take pictures. These photos record enjoying the Looking, and experiencing that, Hey, my subject did Find me at last. That’s a Creative lesson worth considering.

What I want to say about it is best summed up by John Daido Loori:

 I headed back to the school, for an appointment I had with Minor to discuss my work…

He looked at me and said, “You had a good day, didn’t you?” I smiled, and he smiled, too.

“What would you like to talk about?” he asked.

“Honestly,” I said, “I don’t have anything to say.”

“Good,” he replied. “Then let’s just sit here together.”

Winging It Through History

How to describe the most common motif on Puritan burial markers: symbolic, direct, folk-artsy, charming, blank-eyed, stylized, humorous, eerie…Creative. You may not see them in your neck of the woods, as their Winged Selves flock mostly in New England. Depending on their hometown, and its proximity to colonial cities, their styles vary a lot, even to the point of becoming abstract designs. Carvers imitated one another, and also did their own thing.

My own neighbors in Boston’s first English burial ground, next to the historic site where I work, are on the “realistic” end of the spectrum: proper, Toothy skulls with feathery wings. Each has its own personality, and I imagine the artists enjoying that chance to be Creative. The Puritan lifestyle was not known for decorative opportunity.

Sheepish skull

Doesn’t the one with the winged hourglass perched on its head look Sheepish?

sassy skull

The punky one with flame wings has a Sassy smile. Some have Clark Gable grins, and some have rather spider-leg-looking wings.

muscle skull

The one with the very muscle-bound shoulders also has an egg-head, so brings the brains and the brawn. A few just look quite Stoned. (I know. Inherited the pun gene from Grampa.) They appeared slowly under the Carvers’ crafty hands hundreds of years ago and watch the changing world as they soften, chip, and fade.

When I wander through the old grounds of the city, I like giving them these moods and ‘tudes. And appreciating them, Creative Acts of the past that are part of my home’s landscape.

I also have one on a T-shirt, which I wear when I’m at work next door. The shirt is a crowd favorite and just flies off the shelves. (Sorry not sorry. Papa would be proud.) So they’re part of our wardrobes, too. Imagine Cotton Mather, that old Puritan barrel of monkeys, seeing his first name of the label of a graphic T.

The Gravestone Girls make groovy fridge magnets, isolating elements from both simple and elaborate stone art in our area. They do no rubbing and no damage, but they do a lot that is Creative and Fun. This is Smilin’ Isaac!

smiling Isaac

The “wingies” make for sweet eating at Halloween, too, thanks to the Creativity of one of my colleagues, who seems to be an Artistic in Every Way.

wingy skull treat

And most recently, I saw “wingy skull” as quaint and dramatic body art inked on the shoulder of a visitor to the chapel, who kindly showed it off.

Stacie

The thing as wonderful as still having them to love and learn from is giving them new  Life in so many creative ways. Hey, boss, tote bags…

 

These stones can all be found in King’s Chapel Burial Ground on Tremont Street in Boston. You can learn much about them from James Deetz’s interesting book In Small Things Forgotten: An Archeology of Early American Life.  The work of the Gravestone Girls is at https://gravestonegirls.com/. THANK YOU to DeLIGHTful visitor Stacie Moore for sharing her ink and to the Brilliant Beam that is Lauren Bergnes Sell for the yummy photo of her work.